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A Thought….

What does the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, an Internet tycoon and founder of Amazon, revolutionary change in higher education with the introduction of internet based course delivery…MOOCs (massive open online courses), collegiate institutional restructuring and the need for “just in time education” all have in common? Digitized information all delivered conveniently to the end user for her/his consumption when and where he/she want it.

Predicting the future is a hazardous occupation. For the sake of discussion, educational venues have traditionally fallen into three general categories; face to face classroom discussion in real time, on-line education done asynchronously at the convenience of both the instructor and the student, and hybridized instruction using a combination of on-line support and instructor led discourse. All use digitization as means for streamlining data delivery. What intrigues me is the potential a major newspaper with the reputation of the Washington Post has to both supplement and market expanded instruction while at the same time fulfilling its mission of providing news.

A critical strength of a newspaper is its ability to interpret and package news. The historic role a college/university has is to integrate critical thought and expertise into the interpretative act. The needs of society in an internet age are increasingly to provide intellectual resources to digital natives (the Millennials for example) to wisely use information…not as a consumable product, but as a means for rational, far-thinking strategic thought.

I may be stating the obvious but I think Jeff Bezos is going to use his newspaper purchase as a device to leverage the Internet, digitized knowledge, real time news, and the restructuring of bricks and mortar university education into a monetized format that creates a “one-source” integrated organization for information/educational delivery. He possibly will partner with major universities (MIT, Stanford, and Harvard), while using his newspaper and Amazon experience to leverage currency in knowledge acquisition thus creating a new educational model that dramatically impacts schools like Cardinal Stritch University and its School of Business where I teach.

An On-going List

On Censorship, a letter sent home during the North African Campaign by an American soldier in 1942...After leaving where we were before we left for here, not knowing we were coming here from there, we couldn’t tell whether we had arrived here or not. Nevertheless, we now are here and not there. The weather here is just as it always is at this season. The people here are just like they look. On this page a censor scribbled simply, “Amen.”

Atkinson, R. (2002-02-22). An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa,     1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy (pp. 196-97). Henry     Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

On unfair management practices…Then, it sometimes happens that centralization, out of desperation, attempts to summon the citizens to its aid but says the following to them:  “You will act as I wish, to the extent that I wish and precisely in the direction I wish.  You will be responsible for the following details without any design on directing the whole; you will toil in darkness and will judge my work later by its results.” [my emphasis]  It is not under such conditions that one achieves the support of men’s will. (p. 108)

On fixed beliefs forced to change…Man has strong beliefs because he adopts them without looking deeply into them.  Doubt arises when he is faced with objections.  He often succeeds in resolving these doubts and thereupon he believes once again.  This time he no longer seizes truth by accident or in the dark; he sees it face to face and walks straight toward the light. (p. 218)

On illegitimate political parties (think Nazis)…Since the major aim of these associations is to act rather than argue [read debate], to fight rather then convince, they are naturally led to adopt an organization which has nothing civil about it and to introduce military ways and language.  Thus we see them centralize the management of their forces (ca.1830) as much as they can and entrust the power of all the members to a small number of leaders.

The members of these associations respond to a word of command like soldiers on active service; they profess the doctrine of passive obedience or rather, by uniting, they have entirely sacrificed their judgment and their free will in one fell swoop.  As a result, there often reigns at the heart of these associations a tyranny as unbearable as the exercised in society by the government they are attacking.

Such tyranny lessens their moral authority considerably.  The thus forfeit the sacred character which belong to the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors.  For how can a man claim to want to be free when in certain instances he agrees slavishly to obey some of his fellow men, yielding up his will and his very thought to them? (p. 227)

On “universal suffrage” and the difficulty of find great candidates for office…While the natural instincts of democracy persuade the people to remove distinguished men from power, the latter are guided by no less an instinct to distance themselves from a political career, where it is so difficult for them to retain their complete autonomy or to make any progress without cheapening themselves. (p. 231)

On class systems…Up to the present time, no one has discovered a political system which equally favors the development and prosperity of all classis in society.  These classes have continued to form something like distinct nations within the same nation and experience has shown that it was almost as dangerous to place the fate of all these classes in the hands of any one of them as it is to make on nation the judge of any other nation’s destiny.  When the rich alone rule, the interests of the poor are always in danger; and when the poor make laws, the rich see their interests in great jeopardy.  What, then, is the advantage offered by democracy?  The real advantage is no, as is claimed, to favor the prosperity of all, but only to serve the wellbeing of the greatest number. (p. 272)

On majority rule...So, what is a minority taken as a collective whole, if not an individual with opinions and quite often interests, in opposition to another individual whom we call a minority?  Now, if you admit that an all-powerful man can abuse his power against his opponents, why not admit the same thing f or a majority?  Have men, united together, changed their character?  Have they become m or e patient of obstacles by becoming stronger?  For my part, I cannot think so and I shall never grant to several the poser to do anything they like which I refuse to grant to a single one of my fellows. (p. 293)

On pride...While the Anglo-Americans are…united by commonly held ideas, they are separated from all other nations by one feeling, which is pride…They possess, therefore, an in ordinate opinion of themselves and are not far from believing that they form a species apart from the rest of humanity. (p. 440)

On price...[C]heapness of price is the supreme rule of trade.  No sovereign will or national prejudice can struggle for long against cheap prices. (p. 478)

On philosophy...In the sixteenth century, the reformers used the reason of the individual to put a certain number of the beliefs of the religion of their forbears to the test, while withholding from that very reason examination of all the others.  In the seventeenth century, Bacon, in the natural sciences, and Descartes, in philosophy proper, abolished accepted formulae, destroyed the influence of tradition, and overturned the authority of the teacher.

The philosophers of the eighteenth century, applying this principle more generally, undertook to expose to the personal scrutiny of each man the substance of all his beliefs. (p. 495)  

Every great philosopher in the world believes a million things upon the authority of someone else and supposes many m or e truths than he can prove. (p. 499)

On religion...It is religion which has given birth to Anglo-American societies: one must never lose sight of that; in the United States, religion is thus intimately linked to all national habits and all the emotions which one’s native country arouses; that give it a particular strength. (p. 496)  

To this powerful reason add yet another which is no less important: in America, religion has, so to speak, set its own limits; the realm of religion has remained entirely distinct from the realm of politics, to that is has been possible to alter the ancient laws easily without shaking previously held beliefs.  

Christianity has therefore maintained a strong sway over the American mind and – something I wish to note above all – it rules not only like a philosophy taken up after evaluation but like a religion believed without discussion.  

The Americans, having accepted without question the main teachings of the Christian religion, are obliged to accept in the same way a great number of m or al truths which derive from it and hold it together.  That restricts within narrow limits the process of individual analysis and removes several of the most important human opinions from this analysis. (p. 497)

De Tocqueville, A.  (2003). Democracy in America and two essays on America. Translated by Bevan, G. E. with notes and introduction by Kramnick, I. London and New York: Penguin Books.

On reality construction...We can squint our mind's eye so that the glare of our subjective biases is [are] reduced, but in general we've evolved a powerful set of cognitive illusions preventing us from sustained moments of clarity. (p. 155) It's hard to change a person's mind!

Bering, J. (2011). The belief instinct: The psychology of souls, destiny, and the meaning of life. New York: W.W. Norton Company.

On America’s continuing ability to remain strong and vital during a period of global change…The following quote comes from Dr. Kenneth Ludmerer’s  book “Time to heal: American medical education from the turn of the century to the era of managed care”. In his response to the diminishment of funding for medical professional education attributed to the effects of managed care’s demands for profitability (circa 1999) in higher volume patent care he notes:

The underlying problems that led to turbulence in medicine [academic leadership acquiescence to HMO driven cost containment, coupled with]---the earlier acceptance of the myth of unbridled resources and national capacity, the preoccupation with short term rather than long-term thinking, the emphasis on immediate gratification, the difficulty of retaining purpose and values in providing for public goods and human needs through a private market system beholden only to owners and shareholders---were the same problems that jeopardized other aspects of the country’s prosperity [think the current economic crises]. (p. 398)

That prosperity is directly linked to a need for forward thinking, anticipatory, and communally driven focused leadership should not be a surprise. Leadership not practiced by an elite few but by a renewed sense of national urgency that encourages ordinary people to “bring forth the best from themselves and others” needs to be a present national imperative. (p. 394)

Ludmerer, K.M. (1999). Time to heal: American medical education from the turn of the century to the era of   managed care. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

On Morality and Biases...In considering Morality modern political and religious movements have subverted people by:

1.      Establishing beliefs that insinuate your superiority

2.      Make implementing those beliefs logical

3.      Clearly define conforming group behaviors

4.      Reinforce 1-3 constantly

5.      Contract member agreement

6.      Find a charismatic spokesperson

7.      Punish non-conformance

8.      Emphasize factors for members to aspire to

9.      Have member recruit new members

10.  Punish any who wish to leave

11.  Limit internal communication between members

12.  Exclude all outsiders

13.  Identify opposing non-believers

14.  Objectify all non-members

15.  Make outsiders the “enemy”

16.  Uplift in all ways members of your community

17.  Final solution: eliminate the enemy (Newburg, pp. 151-152)

Human perception and beliefs systems are biased by the following:

1.      Family Bias: we believe what our significant others tell us.

2.      Authoritarian Bias: we believe those who have power and status over those who don’t

3.      Attractiveness Bias: beautiful, tall people who look us in the eyes are believed

4.      Confirmation Bias: say what I think and I will believe you

5.      Self-Serving Bias: we maintain beliefs that serve our well being

6.      In-Group Bias: we seek to conform to our group norms and believe them

7.      Out-Group Bias: we dismiss outsiders who don’t believe what we believe

8.      Group Consensus Bias: the more people confirm or deny our beliefs the more we retain or reject them

9.      Bandwagon Bias: we go along to get along and modify our beliefs to fit in

10.  Projection Bias: everybody thinks like us

11.  Expectancy Bias: we tend to find what we look for and ignore evidence to the contrary

12.  Magic Number Bias: the bigger the number the more we believe it

13.  Probability Bias: we magically believe we are luckier then others

14.  Cause and Effect Bias: we are predisposed to connect uncontestable occurrences

15.  Pleasure Bias: if it feels good it becomes good

16.  Personification Bias: projecting emotions and values into inanimate objects creates superstitions

17.  Perception Bias: we assume what we see through our senses is real

18.  Perseverance Bias: stick to something too long and it becomes real even if evidence proves otherwise

19.  False-Memory Bias: our brain retains false memories longer then real memories

20.  Positive-Memory Bias: we recall past events in an increasingly favorable light over time

21.  Logic Bias: we believe what seems logical and reject what seems illogical without fully testing the logic

22.  Persuasion Bias: we believe speakers who resonate with what we believe emotionally

23.  Primacy Bias: put something at the top of a list and we remember it

24.  Uncertainty Bias: we prefer believing or not believing, but abhor being uncertain

25.  Emotional Bias: emotions obscure, reinforce or cause us to disbelieve

26.  Publication Bias: if it is in print or on paper it’s real…it has to be because someone published it

27.  Blind-Spot Bias: because we are unaware of how biases affect us we ignore their effect on us (Newberg, pp. 253-257)

Overcoming manipulation by others and personal biases is dependent on asking and re-asking pertinent questions, constantly seeking new knowledge, recognizing your own limitations, remaining flexible and open to new concepts, and work to remain positive in a world replete with negative thoughts.

Newberg, A. & Waldman, M.R. (2006). Why we believe what we believe: Uncovering our biological need for meaning, spirituality, and truth. New York, NY: Free Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-7497-5